Fife co-operative welcomes first female fisherman as member

Elaine joined as a member last week.
Elaine joined as a member last week.

A Fife fisherman’s co-operative has welcomed its first female fisherman as a member – and now she wants to see more women on the water.

Elaine Christie was admitted to the Fishermen’s Mutual Association (Pittenweem) last week, becoming the first female member in its 71-year history.

Pittenweem-based Elaine had trained to be a carer, but when her partner, Ed Black, was without a crew, she decided to step up and help out for a few weeks.

Now, two years on, she has earned enough experience and the right qualifications to become a member of the FMA, which combines and sells the catches of its members, rather than each selling their catches individually.

Elaine and Ed now catch prawns as far as Dunbar and Arbroath, although can be found fishing in the Firth of Forth on most days.

However, Elaine says she has never met another full-time female fisherman – something she hopes will change.

“I’d love to meet another,” Elaine told the Mail. “It has been a wonderful process and if I can make it easier for anyone else to come through it, I’m all for it. There’s not an awful lot of ladies in the commercial fishing industry at sea.”

Elaine is the only female fisherman in the UK eligible to be part of a UK Government-funded study which aims to look at how women in the fishing industry can be protected.

But are there not more women in the industry?

“The main reason – some men don’t really want women on board,” Elaine said. “I’m lucky because my skipper is my other half. The UK, in comparison to the rest of the world, when it comes to women in industry, has a very neanderthal attitude. Superstition is part of it.

“They don’t really want women on a boat – it’s bad luck. We’ve just got stronger and stronger every year, so it’s absolute nonsense.”

Elaine started as a female fisherman when she was 45. Now 47, she admits that she is running out of time in the industry. She said: “My longevity at sea is limited because of my age. I’m running out of time.

“But had I found this career in my late teens or 20s, I would have had so much experience now, that I could have been a skipper. I could have skippered an all-women boat. If I could see an all-women crew in my lifetime, and kick the boys’ butts, I would be really happy with that.”

Elaine and Ed don’t have a schedule for working at sea – it depends on the weather. A good spell can see them out fishing for five days running, which can be tough when days can last up to 18 hours. However, rough weather can leave them stuck on land for days, so it’s important to make the most of the good weather.

So, what is it about fishing that Elaine enjoys?

“I enjoy the sea, being out there, no one breathing down my neck, the office mentality,” she said. “You see some of the most amazing things – porpoises, sunsets and sunrises, storms, a fogbow.”

And she enjoys getting to work with her partner, Ed.

“It works for us,” Elaine explained. “On the whole, I respect why I’m there and have total trust in his abilities. It’s a dangerous job, so there’s no time for bickering. You’re there to do your job. He has taught me everything.”